August 19th, 2012
I recently ran into a fellow musician I haven’t seen in literally twenty or more years. When I was a kid, I idolized this person. He was probably the single most powerful reason I even became a musician (much to the disappointment of my family who were sure I was going to be a famous -or at least, highly paid – artist…).
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this person’s talent and ability was world class. His lists of music biz contacts and personal celebrity friends were the stuff of indie musician’s dreams. I even got to audition for one of his bands once. I didn’t get the gig, he said, because I wasn’t a good “reproducer” of the lead lines of the era. He was actually a bit angry with me, because he knew I could do the job, but just wouldn’t stick to the script, I was always improvising, embellishing and just generally playing whatever the music moved me to play. His steadfast belief was that fame and fortune lay totally with those who could mimic the styles of the day. Original music was fine as long as it sounded exactly the same as some then famous (and successful) band’s style.
Over the years, he had many groups that did that (mimiced) extremely well. All of them receiving almost instant local and regional acclaim. They gigged a lot. Eventually substituting ninety percent cover tunes, for the originals, to secure more and more bookings. The money wasn’t bad and he got to bask in the fleeting adoration and appreciation of the club audiences. But (IMHO) his incredible talent and potential were being utterly wasted. I would occasionally track him down and briefly touch base with him by phone. He would always tell me how his new band or project was the “one” and it was just a matter of time before he was finally where he wanted to be.
So running into him after so many years was a sobering experience. He no longer plays at all (excess of all kinds, substance abuse and just plain getting up there in years, having finally caught up with him) and is extremely bitter about the music business in general. He knew of my projects and while not “his kind of music,” at least gave me points for sticking with it. I didn’t want to get into the whole -his way vs. mine- thing that we’d disagreed so vehemently about over all those many years ago, and I left incredibly saddened that such a genuinely mega-gifted musician will now never be heard by the world-wide audience that would have really appreciated him.
Like so many I’ve known thoughout my life, he bought a package of “how to succeed in the music biz” beliefs that crippled his chances of truly being heard when he was young and naive, a belief system that promised him paradise and then made him struggle endlessly in a local, little league version of fame where the hucksters, leeches and exploiters of fame-envy, suck the cash and life out of so many. A choice that ultimately emptied his pockets, enriched a bunch of club owners, small time managers and promoters, lead nowhere and took away not only the majority of his adult life but his chances of ever even being a foot note in musical history, despite his awesome talent.
I remember once telling him that I would rather release an original song I truly believed in and have only one person really listen, than play the largest venue in the world and have nobody remember my name after the last cover tune ended. He could never understand that I didn’t write music to appeal to the largest common denominator, and I could never understand why he wasn’t more interested in sharing his originality and unique talent with the world. Someone once said that the biggest decider of winners and losers in the music business was time. I guess they were right. – Bill MacKechnie